It’s time for Barb’s Book Reviews. This month, I’ve got three, count ’em three, really good summer reads for you.
BLOOMSBURY GIRLS by Natalie Jenner: An utterly charming book by the author of The Jane Austen Society, BLOOMSBURY GIRLS is a celebration of books and the power of friendship Set in a post-war London bookstore called Bloomsbury Books (hence the title), it features three very likeable heroines: Vivian, a wise-cracking aspiring writer who is still mourning the fiancé who died in battle, Grace, a working mother trapped in a problematic marriage, and Evie, a hold-over character from the Jenner’s previous book, who joins the bookstore on a secret literary mission.
From the start it’s clear that Bloomsbury Books is a relic from the past. Its male staff clings stubbornly to the olden days of bookselling while disregarding the women’s suggestions for improving sales. These three women, while they don’t realize it, represent the future. They are young career women and young mothers who, having worked through the war, want to continue contributing to the workforce. Little by little, the trio – with the help from some famous female “guest stars” – embrace their potential in the book world. Outside of work, each of the three find themselves discovering new romance.
In addition to creating a cast of characters you can’t help but root for, Jenner does a terrific job of portraying the prejudices of the time, especially chauvinism and British anti-Indian sentiment.
If you are a lover of literature and enjoy books about the power of female friendship, then BLOOMSBURY GIRLS is definitely worth your time.
BEYOND THE MOONLIT SEA by Julianne MacLean. In the opening chapters of MacLean’s book, Olivia Hamilton’s perfect life is ripped apart when her husband’s plane disappears over the Bermuda Triangle. Widowed and pregnant, she must find the strength to rebuild her life. Sounds like your typical women’s fiction novel, right?
Wrong. Dean Hamilton’s plane crash is only the beginning. From there, MacLean takes us back and forth in time to peel back the layers of Dean’s and Olivia’s lives, revealing that her late husband wasn’t so perfect after all.
Then, just when you think the story is wrapping up, MacLean throws in one last twist.
I borrowed BEYOND THE MOONLIT SEA after my bestie Donna Alward couldn’t stop gasping in surprise while reading it during our Florida writer’s retreat. I read the entire thing on my flight home, and yeah, I gasped at the twist too.
BEYOND THE MOONLIGHT SEA is available for Kindle on June 14.
BY HER OWN DESIGN by Piper Huguley: If you watched our last episode of Off the Shelf, you know we loved, loved, LOVED this book. BY HER OWN DESIGN is the story of Ann Lowe, the first high-end black fashion designer. Lowe designed original gowns for Olivia DeHaviland, Jackie Kennedy and most of the social register. Yet she didn’t get public recognition for her work until decades later.
Huguley takes you from Lowe’s childhood in rural Alabama at the turn of the century to her final years when she was finally recognized for her work in fashion. As you read the events in Lowe’s life, you gain such appreciation for her grit and determination. It’s clear that Ann Lowe was a fashion design prodigy. Even so, to go from being the granddaughter of a slave to making Jackie Bouvier’s wedding dress takes a special kind of woman.
If you want to know what it was like to be a black woman in pre-Civil Rights America, read Ann Lowe’s story.
BY HER OWN DESIGN might be the best book I’ve read so far this year– and I’ve read some great books. It hits shelves on Tuesday, June 7th. Buy it.
And now for a special announcement….
For the first time, Barb’s Book Reviews is also available via video. That’s right, I’ve entered the 21st century and become a Booktuber.
The first episode has been posted on the Step in the Story Facebook page. You can also watch my debut on YouTube. I’ll warn you now, I’m not as polished as my Off the Shelf co-hosts, but give me time. I’ll grow into it.
Thanks for reading (or viewing).